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Summary:

Call me skeptical. Call me cynical. Call me shortsighted. But I just can’t see what the new company Qwaq offers that is different or better than what is already out there. Here’s how the company describes its offering: Qwaq, Inc. creates virtual spaces for real work. […]

Call me skeptical. Call me cynical. Call me shortsighted. But I just can’t see what the new company Qwaq offers that is different or better than what is already out there. Here’s how the company describes its offering:

Qwaq, Inc. creates virtual spaces for real work. The company’s product, Qwaq Forums, is the leading secure virtual workspace application for the enterprise, and enables collaboration in ways that weren’t possible before. Designed for enterprises and groups with distributed teams, Qwaq Forums significantly increases productivity by bringing critical resources together in virtual spaces, and allowing people to work together as if they were in the same physical location.

Can someone say “Second Life?” or any other virtual world or virtual world application already out there?

I have a 30-day trial access to Qwaq, have logged into the Welcome Forum and followed the 3 minute tutorial that explained about:

  1. moving around,
  2. my avatar, and
  3. documents.

I’m thinking – hey, there’s nothing to it. Simple and easy is a good thing, right?

qwaqavatarThen as I experimented with building my own office – one with a modern, warm “decor” – I began thinking that…there’s nothing to it. Basically, you can “build” a space such as a campus, a conference room (blue for boys, rose for girls?), a gallery, a modern office (cool or warm colors), a personal office and several other configurations. Breaking it down, this is how Qwaq felt to me:

1. Moving around: I can use either my keyboard or arrows to move my avatar and view around. This is basically the same set of controls for Second Life and other virtual world environments out there, so nothing revolutionary here. Moving around as a new user is just as quirky and clunky and takes time to get used to the flow.

2. My avatar: Ugly. I look like colored boxes stacked on top of each other. It is almost embarrassing how primitive the avatars in Qwaq look. I saw a promo image of a more “custom” avatar and it consists of the photo of a person’s face on the top box that represents the avatar’s head. How can you seriously interact with a business colleague when they look like a box with their photo pasted on it?

3. Documents: This may be where Qwaq has a slight leg up over Second Life and more or less of an advantage over other virtual world environments depending on their document integration tools. On Qwaq, I simply drag a document into my virtual office space, and it appears on the office wall about a minute later, either fully readable or editable, depending on the file type.

qwaqofficeQwaq offers true document integration in a virtual space whereas Second Life users, for example, still struggle to find the right tools to handle a PowerPoint presentation versus a collaborative document or whiteboard. They do include voice capabilities, and although I haven’t tried it, I’m venturing to guess it is much more stable than Second Life’s voice feature.

They also have a useful feature: a 3-D pointer that works similar to a real-life laser pointer so collaborators can draw attention to something.

Despite the cool pointer, I can’t help but think that Qwaq is a watered down version of the more elegant, graphically enhanced and feature rich environments of virtual worlds. Even a cartoonish world like There.com at least has avatars that appear to be people rather than cardboard boxes. And any meeting space in Second Life that is well-designed makes Qwaq’s virtual spaces look like…cardboard boxes.

If I’m going to be doing collaborative work with my clients or team members in a virtual space, I would much prefer that space to have some degree of aesthetics in addition to functionality. Otherwise, I might as well just use 2-D collaborative Web-based tools because they simply…work.

  1. …you’re right.

    Plus, I believe that, from a ‘work’ perspective, sites and online applications that make workers spend LESS time on the computer – or at least more efficient time on the PC – will be far better received by the this target market.

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  2. This sort of thing reminds me of web 1997.

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  3. It sounds as if you’re looking at this technology from a consumer/gamer point of view. As someone who develops products using 3D CAD systems, I see many more applications for the technology than simply treating it as a consumer virtual/game world; especially when robust CAD systems are built into these 3D simulations and have direct links to rapid manufacturing systems.

    I know Second Life quite well. It’s fair to say I was the one who convinced Linden Lab to open it up to corporate use. But what Qwaq is doing is quite different and more like a virtual Product Lifecycle Management application than a videogame.

    You’re completely missing the point, in my opinion.

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  4. I agree with csven, Qwaq is not based on the community or social network idea. Its completely business-communication related.

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  5. I don’t use Second Life, but I think it’s a misperception that it’s entirely consumer/gamer focused.

    There’s a difference between the potential for the technology that csven talks about, and the reality of qwaq as it is now.

    I have been telecommuting for the past 2.5 years and I don’t see how an avatar and a virtual room solves any challenges in my business communications. And I’m not sure there needs to be, or should be, a hard & fast line between a social network/community and business communications. It isn’t a 3D rendering of the office walls that brings distributed colleagues together.

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  6. @Judi – you’re correct, Second Life isn’t entirely consumer/gamer focused. However, the above entry is clearly focusing on those elements:

    Can someone say “Second Life?” or any other virtual world or virtual world application already out there?

    Such as There. Or one of MTV’s marketing efforts. Or one of Doppelganger’s dedicated brand worlds (e.g. “Tyra’s Virtual Studio”).

    When called out as a group, it’s clear what the thinking is.

    And yes, I am at least aware that there is a gap between the reality of Qwaq and its potential. That’s why I used the phrase “especially when” to indicate a future capability.

    As to solving your particular needs, that’s a bias. Perhaps what I’m wanting wouldn’t be of use to you, but it would certainly be of use to me especially since much of my design work is done collaborating with overseas clients. My output isn’t documents, but the files used to mass product product. And because watching me spin the 3D in my CAD application provides little frame of reference to non-designers, companies spend thousands of dollars on models which don’t even function just to wrap their head around the 3D qualities of the product. A virtual environment could act as a substitute in at least some cases.

    Furthermore, afaik no one is suggesting there “needs to be, or should be, a hard & fast line between a social network/community and business communications.” In fact I wrote a well-traffick’d blog entry describing an integrated system ( http://blog.rebang.com/?p=577 ), but that’s probably even more “especially when” then a business-focused solution. All in good time.

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  7. Well, I don’t use Second Life as a game. I meet with clients; woo potential clients; network with colleagues; make business connections; exchange information and documents; make presentations; organize presentations and meetings with global participants; build meeting spaces; and market, promote and sell products and services.

    My point wasn’t “QWAQ should look and operate more like a game.” It is that QWAQ is such a primitive rendering of a virtual space, of avatar,s and of collaborative tools that it wouldn’t serve me well if I were to meet with my distributed team, clients or vendors in it.

    It may have some basic functionality but without some finesse and elegance, some level of business sophistication, it would reflect badly on me to bring business associates into the product’s spaces to do virtual work. Especially when there are so many other virtual work spaces out there – not even counting any of the so-called “games and 3-d social networks” – that present the tools in a much better way.

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  8. @aliza – then in my opinion you should have been specific and said, as you do now, that you’re making a comparison to “other virtual work spaces”. You didn’t. You didn’t even name a dedicated “work” application; the only one besides Second Life cited for comparison of any kind is There. That’s simply not good enough.

    In addition to Second Life you could have compared Qwaq to Ogoglio, Project Wonderland, or any of the other virtual world applications that are actually dedicated to “work”. I can’t understand why you didn’t.

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  9. The real advantages of Qwaq over Second Life are:

    a) security– you can run Qwaq behind your firewall

    b) document integration

    Point b, in my opinion, also makes it easier– out of the box– for corporate collaboration use than platforms like Forterra and Multiverse. I can’t speak to Forterra, but I’m sure document integration could be developed for Multiverse, which is free to develop on as long as your worlds are free to use (they can still be closed/restricted access).

    And, as an aside, I don’t think Qwaq has to look like shit. As I recall from a developer demo, it can take standard 3d models. It’s just, like so many technology companies, they didn’t put any resources into design for the demo.

    There are lots of choices for 3d collaboration out there, and Second Life is one of the poorest options if you need security or stability at all. (I say this as a Second Life user and as a professional virtual worlds developer.)

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  10. I also look forward to Qwaq Forums integrating more realistic avatars, and to OpenSim integrating the collaborative web browsing and Office document editing features of QF.

    But I can tell you that our clients, even those with previous experience in Second Life, do not complain of QF avatars. They are just interested in QF as a collaborative workspace, and many actually _prefer_ the flat faces of QF avatars because you can display your webcam feed on your avatar face (this features is only available in the Mac version of QF at the moment). The webcam option is considered more important that the realism of the avatar. Actually, a good way to describe QF to a potential client is as an advanced collaboration and videoconferencing environment with shared document editing capability, without even saying the word “virtual” tat may scare the most conservative clients.

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  11. How does one exchange documents in Second Life other than notecards and scripts?

    In my mind there’s an image of a real world oriented virtual world where my CAD designed living quarters are because the apartment place makes the virtual world version available as part of it’s marketing efforts. My real furniture is in the virtual apartment because the furniture makers make the model available as part of their marketing and I chose to put it in my virtual apartment. When I buy a neat gadget in the real world I hold it’s UPC code up to my webcam and the model of my neat gadget appears on my virtual nicknack rack. If its the sort of thing that would be useful in a virtual world the company that sells it would have created the script to produce it’s virtual world behavior. If not they’ll have a link to some promotional info. The folks that design cars on CAD systems will make the cars models available, scripted for use in a virtual world. Every sort of real world item that is designed on a computer will be in the real world oriented virtual world because it will be in the interests of product makers to promote their products.

    This real world oriented virtual world won’t be experienced just from behind your computer desk, it will be on your mobile devices, your cell phones, your cars nav systems, etc.

    Here in the world of today I’d like to see the Zoho people add some virtual world features to their online collaboration offerings or at least do what’s necessary to have some mashup between a virtual world and the Zoho collaboration products.

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  12. do any of you know any small businesses that are successfully designing, conceptualizing, or testing products in virtual environments?

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  13. I am a developer in both Sl and Qwaq. Most of Qwaq’s differences from SL are by design. Dont forget that many people wont appreciate the fact that SL has a steep learning curve when they are asked to participate in meetings. Qwaq has an air of getting the job done, rather than worrying about whether one is dressed correctly, etc. Neither will they appreciate the need to render very complex scenes when they have a standard office machine vs a gamers computer. Second life looks very much less apealing on an ageing laptop!

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  14. Does Qwaq’s avaters really just look like cardboard boxes? I saw the Intel video and the avaters looked close enough like human figures. Is it because you were using the Free Trial?

    My supervisor is trying to get into virtual worlds, simply just for meetings and what not so as a “millenia” kid she got me to do the research. So I’m just wondering. Everything’s pretty new to me. I can honestly say I never even heard about Second Life until last week.

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  15. I like the fact that it looks like you can build as much space as you need to use to collaborate? I’d rather have a flat fee for that than get nickel and dimed in SL…

    e.

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  16. The avatars are flat figures, with a shape for a head, body and legs. You can put an image (typically your face) on the head part and use the body panel for a badge or whatever. The latest version lets you put a webcam/video image on the head instead, or choose from a list of ‘realistic’ looking avatars. In my experience, the flat avatars are much more useful for a ‘real’ meeting, by which I mean the type of meeting most people would need in a work setting. I think qwaq are onto a winner here, focusing on the needs of everyday business users.

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  17. I see the value in Qwaq Forums. This is collaboration space. They support live sharign of business documents. Importing of 3D models. Sharing of web pages. Excellent sound control.
    for a virtual business meeting space Qwaq forums make a lot of sense.

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